It’s messy. And it hurts.

And I could end it there. But that would be a lame post, wouldn’t it? I think so.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, on several fronts, the idea of ‘being real.’ What is authenticity? What does it take to get there? More importantly, how do you know when you, or the people in your life – that you love, like, hate, sleep with, share blood with, live with, live near, work for, work with, who buy sell or process things that you sell, buy or … process – are being authentic? Or possibly more important, when they – or you – aren’t? The bottom line of course is that we can’t know this about others in most cases. All we can do is collect data and try and see how it all hangs together. Too often (considering I’ve been me my whole life) I have to closely examine myself in regard to this. It’s too easy, I think, to go to either extreme: being so aggressively, act-out authentic that you turn into a caricature of yourself or of whatever idea of yourself you want to portray; or on the other hand, wanting so much to be agreeable and pleasant and well-liked that you suppress those parts of you that might kick up dust.

So the questions that ought to be simple are instead so piercing: Are you being real, cg? Is this true? Is this authentic? Why are you doing this? Where is this coming from?

Don’t get me wrong. An overly vigorous campaign of self-analysis and introspection is, frankly, a drag – for everyone. I find instead the less I think about me, and about how I come across, the more authentic it’s possible to become.

I started thinking about this in regard to songwriting. It seems to me that there’s a lot of crap out there on the radio. This is not an earth shattering statement. Shoot, there’s a lot of crap that never makes it to the radio. What makes a good song, a good album, what makes music that means something? Obviously, the music itself is possibly the biggest part of that – but there are many songs that are just a few simple chords, and maybe even a few simple words and yet their impact is disproportionate to the sum of their parts. My working theory right now (and if you know me, you know I love my theories … I’m always collecting data usually in the form of highly scientific surveys conducted at drinking establishments) is that when someone writes a song and puts something of themselves into it – something real, something from experience, something that pushes them out on a limb a little bit if only from the standpoint of exposing some part of their inner life – assuming also that the music itself holds up, and the two things come together, people are drawn to that. One example of this (and there are lots) might be the Once phenomenon. The little movie (and soundtrack) that could. People ate that up. Never mind that Glen Hansard and the Frames have been churning out highly respectable albums for what, 20 years? People connected to that film and that soundtrack. It felt personal. It felt authentic.

The Great American Public (or the Great British Public – how about Susan Boyle?) or the whole world, for that matter, hunger and thirst for this idea of authenticity, which to my mind is what makes something like the Tiger Woods fracas news. Does anyone truly care what he does? I wonder. But something in us is upset by the idea, perhaps, that he’d present himself in a certain way – to the degree that he’d be a paid ambassador of such, if you want to think of endorsements in that way – and then be living such a different life. That is not authentic. It doesn’t settle well. Nobody gets upset with … Tommy Lee. (Maybe Pam, at one time. But do you think she really, really expected anything different? One wonders. If you have a better example, by all means share it, please; I’m not trying to bust on Tommy & Pam. I was sorry to see them split, actually.)

So going back to the beginning: being real is often messy. A lot of times it can be painful, or embarrassing, or risky. But I think we’d probably all also agree that it is the only true currency any of us has – if your friends, family, your lovers, don’t know the authentic you, how can they even have an opportunity to love that person? And if you don’t know where you stand on that count, what do you really have? Not a lot, to my mind. This all coming from a person who spent many years carefully constructing a deflection pattern I thought of as “The Cloud of No,” which was all about conflict-free avoidance. Well, it’s gone now, and I find that while my hard shell is missing (perhaps the underlying reason for the paradox I mulled over this weekend) I can still say no just fine. And without a real no, there is no true yes – which is something infinitely more terrifying and intoxicating and fraught with peril and possibility.

And I think I like the idea of that. And I’d like to be able to allow that courtesy to the people in my life. It’ll probably be messy, like this jumbled screed of a post.